ooking back on it I don’t think I would recommend the way we did it to anybody! Moving to Ethiopia was a challenging transition for us. We had never been to Ethiopia before; we had no clue. But we were confident this is where God wanted us to be. So, desiring to be faithful, we went.
I touched down in the middle of the night at Addis Ababa International Airport with seven bags, one wife, one 8-month-old, three one way tickets and an overwhelming feeling of “what did I just do”.
It was August 2008 and we had finally arrived in Ethiopia after nearly two years of preparation. The original plan had been to arrive in Soddo at the same time as the other American surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon and field director of the hospital, would be back from his latest trip to the United States. However, he had developed some health problems that delayed his return by a few months.
We arrived in Soddo several days later after collecting some supplies in the capital. I was the only non-Ethiopian doctor, and it felt like a jump into the deep end.
The hospital is a surgically oriented hospital located in a rural area of Southern Ethiopia. Compared to a hospital in the United States it was a lot more low tech; it was a struggle to figure out how to get things done there. It’s like doing 1970s medicine, if you will. The biggest challenge that we faced was getting recognized by the medical authorities since our surgical center wasn’t part of an established government-run university. It took the entire six years I was there before that finally happened. Another challenge was getting residents. A lot of Ethiopian doctors were interested in surgery and they liked the idea of PAACS but would they even be officially recognized when they finished their training? That was a real blessing when that finally became solidified and they knew their training at PAACS would be recognized by the medical authorities.
It was just so different from everything I was used to in the United States. I was used to knowing what cases were on the schedule and being able to plan for them. I quickly found out that’s not how it works in Ethiopia! Literally every morning I would wake up, walk across the field to the hospital and find a bunch of people waiting there. They’d arrived at all hours of the night because they'd heard that the doctors there would help you. So I would just tell my residents “okay, you take this room, you take that room” and we’d do the best we could. I’d had training to do maybe a third of the cases, the rest was stuff I'd never done or even seen before. Talk about overwhelming! I learned a lot in residency but it was here that I started to understand that learning how to learn FAST was the path to success in the real world.